Friday, September 16, 2011

Townsend Mansion

Recently I attended an alumni event at the Cosmos Club which is housed in the old Townsend Mansion.This mansion along embassy row has long been one of my favorite stately Beaux Arts houses of DC, designed by renowned architects Carrere and Hastings and finished in 1901. Fittingly enough, John M. Carrere had been a member of the Cosmos Club from 1905 until his death in 1911.A true townhouse, the design is a piano nobile, with the primary rooms on the second floor, further away from street noise and dust. After entering the grand foyer seen above, you ascend into a grand hall, reminiscent of the great halls of stately country manors, large enough to double as an entertaining space.This is the staircase today on the 2nd floor. The configuration has changed a bit from the original with the parlor now serving as entry hall and the doorways into the hall and small parlor being closed.The parlor has not changed much and is the most beautiful room in the house.Rather than art hung on the walls (with the exception of the portrait above the mantel), they are painted with beautiful murals with the delicate plasterwork painted white.You can see how impressive this room is, but not over scaled for the size of the house.Fascinating to see the workings of a private club with piles of daily newspapers on this table.This doorway leads you to the main hall.Loved this bust of Benjamin Franklin and you can see a bit of detailing in the murals.Adjacent to the parlor is the 'small parlor' decorated in more of an Empire style.As you can see, this room hasn't changed much either. The damask wall hangings have been replaced with plain painted plaster.Based on the photographs, a lot of the furnishings are from the original owner, Mary Scott Townsend, although used in different areas of the house.This table was originally in the library, next door.Mrs. Townsend lived in the mansion until her death in 1931 when her daughter and husband moved in, Mathilde & B. Sumner Welles. During WWII, the house was leased to the Canadian Women's army corps and was later sold to the Cosmos Club in 1950 for only $364,635 (after they had been paid $1,000,000 for their previous space - smart financial move). The club has taken immaculate care of the house and continues to do so. In 1973 it was added to the National Register of Historic Places.Here you see the library in Mrs. Townsend's time. It has had some changes, many years ago to my eye as they feel residential, probably under the care of her daughter Mrs. Welles.
Here you see the table which now is in the small parlor.This original fireplace above has been replace with a much older renaissance styled chimneypiece.The intricate plaster and wood beamed ceilings are original although now painted white.Even the hall has a fireplace. The mantels found throughout the house were much deeper than any I had seen before, well over 24".Across the hall from the library is the dining room with breakfast room alcove.The room is richly paneled with a painted ceiling.









Here too the fireplace mantels have been traded out for much simpler ones which are still appropriate to the space.

On the opposite side of the room from the fireplace is a built-in marble server, matching the mantel.Here you begin to see the ornate ceiling decoration. The recessed lights are obviously not original and clearly unfortunate. A detail of the beautiful paneling.The Cosmos Club has expanded far beyond the original building through numerous additions and also acquiring adjacent properties. The dining room has become an internal room now and this walkway goes past the breakfast room bay.The hall is artfully treated as a conservatory which I feel respects the original house.The ballroom on the plan above is currently being renovated so I was unable to get a picture, but here is one from Mrs. Townsend's time.The bedrooms upstairs were no less grand or less sumptuously detailed than the main rooms below.At the end of the hall is entry to the garden which is still a beautiful place; the sound of trickling water from the fountain drowns out noise from passing traffic. Originally designed by Frederick Law Olmstead Jr, the gardens have been substantially altered.
















All historic photos from the Library of Congress: color photos are from my cellphone camera.

9 comments:

The Devoted Classicist said...

While I do not understand the logic behind the alterations, I am glad the house is being otherwise preserved. Thanks for the tour!

ArchitectDesign™ said...

Classicist - Code requirements for public occupancy (multi story stair wells being contained etc.). It actually works well and isn't obvious if you don't know the building well.

Leah Moss said...

thank you for living in my city and telling me all about all the lovely places that are here that I probably wouldn't seek out if it weren't for you! I think I have received more insight into the city's best buildings from reading your blog than from all the art history classes I've taken.

xo
Leah

ArchitectDesign™ said...

Leah - I'm so flattered! I think it's been great for me too because it forces me to do research on the places I see.

VictoriaArt said...

Thank you for introducing me to yet another amazing piece of history, architecture and culture. It is such a wonderful thing that most of the artwork and many pieces of furniture still are at the house it was build for. You will hardly find this these days that a home stays complete or nearly so after it changes owners.

VictoriaArt said...

Thank you for introducing me to yet another amazing piece of history, architecture and culture. It is such a wonderful thing that most of the artwork and many pieces of furniture still are at the house it was build for. You will hardly find this these days that a home stays complete or nearly so after it changes owners.

The Down East Dilettante said...

It really is such a wonderfully lush, opulent place---Carrere and Hastings at their best.

I remember being taken as a child to the Welles's summer home at Bar Harbor---quite grand by most standards, but indeed a simple seaside cottage by comparision to this

sandrajonas.com said...

What a wonderful tour! You have introduced me to the most fascinating places. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Janet said...

Don't you love that library!?!